On the surface, it wasn’t significant.
In all the games played at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Marion County Fairgrounds over the decades — an inventory into the hundreds over roughly 45 years — it was just another game.
East Knox beat Cardington 45-38 in the Division III boys basketball sectional tournament.
Turns out it was a big deal.
In the stands that night was an eighth grader watching his big brother play on that court.
“I thought it was the coolest venue,” Tom Kenney said last week, remembering that long ago late winter night in 1992.
He was there to support his brother Rob, as Tom would later go on to an All-Ohio basketball career at Cardington, helping the Pirates to a Final Four appearance as a senior post player in 1996.
While he went on to play college basketball at Marist in Poughkeepsie, New York, averaging nine points and six rebounds for his career and more than 14 points and almost eight boards as a senior, there was always something missing on Kenney’s list of basketball travels.
“I never had the chance to be out there,” he said of playing at Marion’s coliseum.
No one has had a chance to be out there playing basketball in front of fans for a quarter century.
Kenney and some others are in the midst of making sure that changes.
Plans are in the works to bring high school basketball back to the venerable barn that was opened in 1950 and can easily hold 3,200 fans with even more on the floor if needed.
“It’s gotten to the point where there had to be some action taken or else it would continue to be talk,” Kenney said. “Myself and a few other interested parties decided we were going to go ahead and take action and make it happen.”
The baskets are long gone and so is the floor that became infamous for its dead spots all over the court. According to Kenney, half of it is at the home of former Cardington and Marion Harding boys basketball coach Roger Jury, while the other half is serving a church in Tennessee.
That’s the reason why the coliseum has been home to indoor football, graduations, dog shows, wrestling matches, MMA fights, concerts, robotics competitions and the fair — but not basketball over the last couple decades.
Kenney and his friends are fixing that.
“What we’re doing is bringing in collegiate courts,” he said. “The whole area will be 60-by-120 (feet), but it will be a full 50-by-94 (foot) collegiate basketball court with collegiate basketball hoops, booms, backstops. The goal is to have the players have the opportunity to play in a high level, collegiate-type environment.”
The return event will be a day-long extravaganza with all five Marion County boys and girls basketball teams playing out-of-county opponents in preseason preview games on Saturday, Nov. 12, starting at 9 am
“We’ve had a lot of interest in schools wanting to play there as opponents against the Marion high schools,” Kenney said. “We’re in the process of working with all the schools to determine the best matchups as well as which schools will travel well for the event. That’s an important aspect as well.”
For this initial event, they will be renting the court, baskets and standards.
“This first season is going to be treated like a feasibility study to determine if there is enough community support to really have continued and long lasting and permanent basketball games in the coliseum,” he said.
If there is interest, the goal is to buy a court that the coliseum can use permanently.
Kenney sees an exciting second life for the facility.
“The long-term goal is if we can have success in this first season, then I would like to have the tradition of a Marion County basketball tipoff for actual games at the beginning of the season,” Kenney said. “There’s definitely a lot of discussion about possibilities for holiday tournaments. Ideas have floated around that would be similar to the Big Ten-ACC (Challenge) where we do an MOAC and KMAC or have two competing conferences where they match-up and play a game.”
Kenney also foresees an event that can rival Berlin Hiland’s Classic in the Country for girls basketball and Flying to the Hoop in Dayton for boys basketball, and that’s a weekend-long showcase of high school games for college coaches — maybe not at the top end — at the NCAA Division II, III, NAIA and junior college levels.
There are lots of possibilities for a building that is as unique and as storied as the coliseum, and Kenney and Co. will get it started later this year.
“Growing up and being in the area, I’ve talked to so many people who have got so many great stories out there,” he said. “The coliseum has such a rich history of basketball. It’s really pretty amazing if anyone researches the history behind it.”
Here’s hoping more significant basketball games can be showcased in the years to come at a facility that truly is special in this community and beyond.
Rob McCurdy is the sports writer at the Marion Star and USA Today Network-Ohio and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-610-0998, Twitter @McMotorsport and Instagram @rob_mccurdy_star.
More on the Coliseum
A Facebook page has been set up called The Coliseum Basketball Tip-off where fans can find updates on the return of basketball to Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Also, anyone who might have pictures of the coliseum hosting basketball game or anyone who has stories they want to share about the venue and send an email to email@example.com.